Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Spelunking I Will Go

At a little nook of a cave in Custer's State Park
There's a reason I wrote a fantasy series about an underground world...I love caves! I think I would live in one if I could. A simpler dream of mine is to someday explore a cave without following a cement path or listening to a guide. I want to get down and dirty and crawl on my belly and maybe even get stuck once or twice. I've visited several caves in my day, but as all cave junkies know, the guided tours, though typically fun and interesting, can leave you feeling unfulfilled.

Getting Squeezed
Here in New Hampshire, we have two major cave sites: Polar Caves Park and my favorite, Lost River Gorge. Neither have big or long caves, but they're enjoyable all the same. Both can be done without a guide. My favorite part at Lost River is the Lemon Squeezer. It's a squeeze, all right, and if you can't make it through the squeeze gauge, you can't go through the cave. Part of the passage involves pulling yourself along on your stomach, past a stream that bubbles by on your right. This cave can be closed at certain times of the year due to flooding, so either call ahead, or make sure it's been dry lately.

In New York  a few years back, we visited Howe Caverns. I liked the caves well enough-they weren't my favorite, but I did like two parts quite a bit. The first was the ride in the boats on the underground river. In Anaedor, you would ride the Turbles, which would be more fun, but smellier. The other cool part was the Winding Way, a very narrow passage with high walls that winds back and forth (hence the name). It felt very constricting, which was awesome.

Reminds me of Willie Wonka's chocolate river ride.
The Winding Way

Every coffee lover's dream.
Recently we traveled home to Minnesota to visit family. When we were done meeting all one thousand of them (my husband comes from a family of 9 kids), we drove to South Dakota Black Hills territory (which is gorgeous, btw). It was a LONG drive (8 hours), but worth it. We visited the Badlands and Wall Drug on the way out, both of which are fascinating landmarks, for very different reasons. I remember both from my childhood, though vaguely. The Badlands were hot and Wall Drug had ice water and cool stuff to buy. Both are still the same.

The wind is blowing the plastic strip.
While in the Black Hills, we visited Mt. Rushmore (of course) and hit three caves. We were there for only 2 days, so yes, I'm quite impressed with myself for pulling that off. We saw Wind Cave first. It's called Wind Cave because it either blows air out or sucks it in, depending on the barometric pressure. To get in, you have to pass through revolving doors. It kind of takes the romance out of the experience, but there are no natural entrances to the cave other than that blowhole, and I'm pretty sure none of us would fit through it. There was an anti-gun sign on the glass pane going in. I didn't read it, but I'm guessing the point it's trying to make is that caves and bullets don't mix well. Wind Cave is known for its box work details, which you can see in the above photos. I would love to do this for our ceilings - it's a great effect. My favorite part was when the tour guide turned out the lights. Total darkness forever wouldn't be fun, or if you were stuck in an oubliette, but it was very cool to experience for a few minutes.

Note the anti-firearms sign.

Do you see the demon? We did.

Wind Cave is known for its box work details, which you can see to the left and below. I would love to do this for our ceilings - it's a great effect. My favorite part was when the tour guide turned out the lights. Total darkness forever wouldn't be fun, or if you were stuck in an oubliette, but it was very cool to experience for a few minutes.

Wind Cave and more box work.

The second cave we saw was Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns. It's hard to take good pics inside a cave, but here are a few samples of what we saw. It's a small cave, but a beautiful one, and I can imagine what it must have been like when those who discovered the cave first saw the crystals. They must have thought they'd died and gone to heaven. Our guide was fun and funny and we thoroughly enjoyed the tour, though you have to go down a lot of stairs, then get back up them - not for the faint of heart, or the weak of heart, either. Once you leave, there's a small cave right next to crystal cave that you can explore on your own. They even provide the flashlights!

Looks like teeth, eh?
I'm rich, I'm rich!
Pretty pattern...or intestines?
Entry to self-exploring cave.

Rorschach Gem Test: What do you see?
Original entrance to Rushmore - note the ladder.
The last cave we visited was Rushmore Cave. We decided to do the whole package, including the zipline and the 7-D game. The cave was pretty neat and we enjoyed strolling through it. I particularly liked seeing some stalactites and stalagmites - they seemed to be pretty rare in the South Dakota caves. There's a reason for that, but I'm not going to tell you because why spoil all the mystery? After the cave tour we rode the zipline, which was awesome, though my husband felt like he was going to fall off - I recommend holding onto the back of the seat with one hand. My husband and youngest son now want to build a zipline (he and son #2 have already built a trebuchet). Go figure! The 7-D game, which I thought the kids would like but I'd find a tad dull, was awesome! I didn't really care so much about shooting zombies (besides, I stunk at it), but I loved the ride. I wish it would have lasted longer...or been inside the cave.

Entry into a Goblin's cave?
I love the mythical look of this part.
Very cool, but rather suggestive.
More teeth - likely dragon.
Close up of teeth - need brushing.
The exit - reminds me of how Lavida returned to Anaedor in Book Two.

I'm thinking of heading to Pennsylvania next. There are a fair number of caves there that are calling to me. I'd also like to explore a sea cave some time. If you ever visit a cave you like, drop me a line.

Until next time, fellow cavers!

Come Explore Anaedor!

The Chronicles of Anaedor: The Return to Anaedor (Book Two)

Monday, April 1, 2013

One Flew West

If you haven't heard of the movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, then you haven't been out much. If you haven't watched the movie, you really should. It's macabre and disturbing, and at the very least, should make you feel grateful for the life you lead (i.e., if you aren't living it like these poor guys).

It's hard to believe the title of the book and subsequent movie came from a nice, seemingly sweet, nursery rhyme:

Vintery Mintery Cutery Corn* 

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo's nest.

*keep in mind there are several variations to this rhyme 

There are all sorts of interpretations out there about why the author chose this title, most of them having to do with the obvious polarity presented in the rhyme and the conflict between Jack Nicholson's character, Randle, and the indomitable Nurse Ratched (whom I've based a character on in my latest book - how could I not?). I don't think you can go wrong with this interpretation, but I thought I'd try to add to it with my own observations.

First, I looked up vintery, mintery, and cutery on the internet. No luck. I then had to go old school and crack open my huge dictionary. Guess what? I didn't find them in there, either. Can you say, conspiracy theory? At this point, I'll assume they're made-up words (if anyone finds anything to the contrary, let me know!). Why put in made-up words? Perhaps because the author of the rhyme was a little out there and loving it? Or maybe it's because they're fun words to say. I have no idea what was going on in the original author's head, but they are fun words to say. Whatever the reason, their mysterious nature adds to the allure behind the poem and speaks to a mind that is different and unique, as are the minds of most mentally ill individuals.

An apple seed represents the beginning of life. An apple thorn, if it exists (in looking it up I found thorn apple, which is also known as loco weed, and is, among other things, a powerful hallucinogen), sounds a little more deadly. These two opposites lend credence to the polarity theory, but also, in my mind, say a little more. A person can start out innocent and full of life, like an apple seed, but through environment, can turn into something less wholesome, broken, perhaps. Certainly this idea could be applied to the character of Nurse Ratched, who was really kind of wretched.

Next comes the limber lock - what is it? I don't really know. This is the closest I came to finding out what one was...just a link and a picture (see left). I did find this: Another meaning for limber is a horse-drawn cart used to pull a field gun or caisson (a chest or wagon that stores ammo). I imagine the lock was to keep things in place or to keep the chest locked up. I'm not sure what the wire and the briar have to do with anything, though both are sharp and poky. Interpretation? Well, humans have been known to lock up their sharp and poky emotions, thus leading to mental illness. Ammo can represent those emotions - explosive when sparked. I might be stretching things here, but conjecture is the beginning of finding out the truth, right?

Now we come to the geese. How often have you seen three geese in a flock? I don't think I've ever seen that few. So what could the three mean? Freud postulated that our personalities are made up of three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. Connect this idea to the flying part of the rhyme and you've got a personality that is split in three - one going one direction (the id, which is our selfish, impulsive side), another going the opposite way (the superego, our conscience), which leaves the ego (the part that acts as referee between the id and the superego) flying over a cuckoo's nest. We all know that cuckoo is another way of saying crazy. So what we have here is a person whose ability to keep himself stable and sane has broken down.

I don't know about you, but I love digging into the meaning behind things. I could be way off base with my analysis, but who cares? I might also be spot on.

Now I'm off, flying to parts unknown, and perhaps stopping at a cuckoo's nest along the way.

Here's my own little cuckoo's nest...Nepenthe Manor.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I Can't Help It If I'm Weird

Wednesday Rules
I grew up reading The Addams Family and The Shining, watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest when I was probably way too young, learned how to throw a tomahawk and knife from my mom, and concocted strange herbal remedies that often included a bit of my own blood (I think I still have a vial of the vile stuff somewhere).

A yard sale score
So when I thought of setting my latest series in an insane asylum, my self wasn't the least bit surprised. What could be spookier or more macabre than an insane asylum? ...Or at least what I think of when I imagine an insane asylum. Of course, I had to make my insane asylum at Nepenthe Manor more palatable than a real one. I don't particularly like reality. I mean, I truly believe I'll be able to buy a castle someday. But anyway, if you've ever been inside a mental health facility, you understand what I'm talking about. And I think anyone who has had to live in one would much prefer my asylum.

A couple things I've collected
Just some light reading material...
So far, of all the characters I've created (or who have knocked on my skull's door), Pandora Belfry is definitely my favorite. I'm starting to think she's my alter ego (the person I would be if I weren't so restricted by our boring society). She does and says things I never would even dare. She's the much more intriguing me I'd like to be.

And if I were to become more like her? I think the world should be afraid, very afraid.

One of my lethal plants
Let me know what you think of the world I created. And if I should become more like Pandora. And if you'd like to join me in creating mayhem. And if you're weird, too.

I like weird.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Don't Forget Us

I just love this picture!
I've recently launched a new book series: The Pandora Belfry Adventures, which combines my love of writing with my morbid sensibilities with my wish to help people. I'm excited because these aren't just books, they're atypical commentaries on how our society treats the mentally ill. I wanted to take my background in counseling psychology and apply it to the world of Nepenthe Manor in a way that would make people want to read about mental illness - I hope I succeeded in doing that.

The first book is called Mayhem at Nepenthe Manor. It's pronounced like this...Nuh-pen-thee. Just click on the blue word because it does a better job of showing you how to say it than I just did. Nepenthe is the last name of the family that built Nepenthe Manor back in the 1880s.

So you might be wondering...where did I get the name Nepenthe? Actually, I don't remember where I came across the word, which is ironic being that nepenthe means "something that makes you forget."

In Homer's Odyssey, it was actually a drug. This book is not about drugs. I picked the name to represent what Nepenthe Manor becomes - an insane asylum. And what's an insane asylum but a place full of people society wants to forget and who wouldn't mind forgetting a few things themselves?

I plan to keep blogging about mental health, psychology, daily struggles, etc. so stay tuned for more interesting tidbits, helpful insights, and peculiar ramblings.

In case you're interested, here's a synopsis of the Mayhem at Nepenthe Manor:

Precocious and morbidly obsessed with death, Pandora Belfry has spent her entire life at Nepenthe Manor, a dark, Gothic mansion also known as the local loony bin. Recently turned fourteen and growing exasperated with her stifling life, Pandora wants two things more than anything else in the world—to make her escape from the asylum, and to get her mom to finally act like a real mom. Until these wishes are granted, she acts as self-imposed ringleader to a wayward posse of inmates.

Known amongst themselves as the Secret Six, Pandora and her friends spend their time at Nepenthe Manor stirring up trouble—holding weekly Midnight Meetings to concoct schemes, sneaking into places like the Nepenthe family cemetery and the forbidden attic, and generally doing everything they can to avoid the curse of living a mundane life. But when a mysterious new inmate arrives at the manor, things change for Pandora, and not for the better. In retaliation for a trick she plays on him, the charming and handsome Xavier connives to take over the posse, threatens to divulge one of Pandora's biggest secrets, and refuses to tell her what he did to get himself locked up. This boy is obviously hiding something, and it’s up to Pandora to use whatever nefarious means necessary to find out what it is, before he destroys the only world she’s ever known.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Stretch in Time Saves Nine Lives

I told it was small...
I recently entered a writing contest for a new website, Undertendollars, and made it to the top three finalists (one of the judges was Amber Dusick of Crappy Pictures fame)! I didn't win the contest, so I guess that gives me the right to publish my little piece here... And since I'm desperate for blog posts, even though it's not the grand prize winner, it will have to do.

I'm including a picture of my shower, which I didn't have in the original, and which probably would have catapulted me to winnerdom. Sigh... Success is all about choices and once again I made the wrong one. Actually, I was just too lazy to stand up and go take the dumb picture.

Dear Under Ten Dollars,

It’s March 1st and I just found about your contest and its deadline, March 4th. Crap. I’m supposed to write about how I save time, money, and/or reduce stress in my life. Well, that’s just great cause now I’m getting stressed AND wasting time as I quietly freak out about the approaching deadline. I think I might be missing the big picture here.

Time to inhale pink, exhale blue.

Okay, I’m back. While meditating, I remembered one thing that I do that saves time. It’s a little weird, though, and I’m not really sure I should share it with the world, even if it means I might win a contest…

All right. I’m going to do it. Time is precious, the kids have been home all week on break (one of them is currently playing organ music on our electric piano – and not good organ music), and I’m feeling the winter doldrums. I need to get crazy. Are you ready? Wait for it…

I exercise in the shower. Yes, it’s true. Not only do I maximize that hair conditioning time (two whole minutes), I’m showering off the sweat. (Truth be told, I don’t sweat all that much. It’s really just stretches…but go with me on this).

A long time ago, back in graduate school, I injured myself studying. That’s right. Studying. I think I’m the only person in the world who has done this and I should probably receive some sort of accolade or letter from the president.

Did I get injured from lifting all those heavy books, you ask? Not quite. Was it from racing to the library to snag the best carrel? Not even close. Oh, I know! You got a paper cut! I wish it were that simple.

The pain radiating throughout my chest – which, as I staggered to the student health center, I sincerely believed was a heart attack – was from leaning over so intensely, and for such long periods of time, that I hurt myself.

Pathetic, you say? Righto.

The doctor gave me a few stretches to help avoid the agonizing pain and I did them religiously. In a few weeks, the pain went away and I was able, once again, to study like nobody's business without wanting to cry at the end of the day!

These days, I no longer study, but I do write every day. So to keep the pain from returning and to maximize every spare minute of my day, I do my stretches in the shower. I do shower every day, which is not the best for the environment, I know, but it keeps me from forgetting to stretch, releases me from my typical morning zombie-like stupor, and helps my fine, oily hair retain some measure of perkiness. To counteract my wasteful ways, I use natural products, recycle, compost, and hand sew all my boys’ clothes (okay, I don’t actually do that last one because I sew like I imagine a monkey would). So please, fellow Greenies, don’t lynch me.

I’ve even added some stretches to my routine over the years – I stretch while the water is heating up and while rinsing out my hair. Crazy genius, I know, but that’s how I roll.

It’s a win-win situation. I save time, I stay limber, and I stay clean.

So who wants to join me?! We’ll start a shower stretching revolution! We’ll conquer sore muscles! We'll— Um, you know you have to do this in your own shower, right? My shower is like, 3 x 3. It’s tiny and my elbows swing and…

Oh, what the heck, come on in! It’ll save on water!

Sincerely yours,

Kristina Schram, Ph.D. (in Shower Stretching)
P.S.  Here are my stretches:

1. While water is heating up, lift arm over head, grab elbow, and gently pull down for 10 seconds. Do for other arm. Then stretch arms backward, keeping them straight, clasp hands and gently pull upward for 10 seconds. After that, I do the following 20 times (stomach pulled in): lift shoulders, pull back elbows (so your chest thrusts outward), then drop your shoulders. 

2. Once in the shower, while shampooing my hair, I hold in my stomach muscles. As I rinse out, I stand flat-footed, then lift up onto toes...twenty times. Again, hold in your stomach muscles. I'm not going to repeat this again because it gets annoying...but do this as much as possible while stretching. It's an added core builder.

3. Once the conditioner is in, I do shoulder rolls, forward and backward (almost like you're rowing, but quickly), twenty times in each direction. I also do ankle rotations (make circles), 10 to the right, ten to the left, for each foot. While rinsing out the conditioner, I bend my arms, turn palms upward (as though in supplication to the almighty shower god), pull back, hold for 10 seconds. Do ten times.

4. Don't forget to towel off...you could even do leg stretches while drying!

Easy, peasy, one, two, threesy, now you're fresh and flexible!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Next Big Thing

THE NEXT BIG THING is a chain of book and author recommendations. Each author answers some questions about their work, then recommends other authors...

1. What is the working title of your next book?

The Chronicles of Anaedor: The Lost Ones. It's book three in a series of four books. Books One (The Prophecies) and Two (The Return to Anaedor) have already been published. If they weren't, I'd be annoyed if I were you.

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was living in the city at the time, which was not my favorite place, being that I'm a country girl at heart, but it had this wonderful park full of ravines and streams that totally saved me. One day I was walking through the park, contemplating life, when I imagined that a creature was peeping out from beneath a rock, watching me pass by. Kind of creepy, I suppose, but it jump-started my idea of the hidden, underground world of Anaedor.

3.  What genre does your book fall under?

That's an easy one. It's YA fantasy.

4.  What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Anyone really cute so maybe I'd get to meet them. I think any of the actors from The Lord of the Rings movies could work, especially Viggo Mortensen. I'd put him in the part of Frio, Amoral Hunter, and resident hottie. Though Viggo would have to go blond.

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In Book Three, 16-year-old Lavida Mors, prophesied savior of Anaedor, has to cope with mischievous Lost Ones, a ruthless Hunter determined to use her powers for his own benefit, and a ravenous, giant squid.

6.  Will your book be self-published, or represented by an agency?

I am going through Hive Collective, a publishing company that works with authors to publish their works.

7.  How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Maybe 8 months? It's been about 8 years since I wrote it, so I'm not exactly sure.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

If I were savvy, I'd say the Harry Potter series, The Chronicles of Narnia series, and The Hunger Games. But really, my books are only like the first two. Its only resemblance to The Hunger Games is that the characters in the books often get hungry.

9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Staying home to raise three boys inspired me. If I didn't have writing to keep me sane, I would have lost my mind long ago.

10.  What else about the book might pique the reader's interests?

It's full of magic and mystery and adventure. There's some romance, but it's not too gooey for the boys. You'll find weaponry and intrigue, strange, mythical creatures, and a battle with a giant squid. The book starts out with homicidal Pixies bent on taking out Lavida. She uses a spatula to fight them off, then locks them up. Unfortunately, they escape. That's when the fun begins!


After buying all my books, you might want to check out these other great authors:

1.  Paul Byers  Paul writes adventure books full of non-stop action. He sums up his latest book, Arctic Fire, with the following words, "A world running out of natural resources... A madman's lust for power... A plan to level an American city with thousands dead... A new World Order rising... An ordinary man's struggle to stop it, if he can only survive long enough!"

2.  Dorine White  Dorine writes middle grade fantasy and has her first book, The Emerald Ring, coming out in May. Here's a synopsis: Twelve-year-old Sara Guadalupe Bogus's ordinary life turns upside down when she discovers an emerald ring once belonging to Cleopatra. Soon after trying it on, strange things start happening to Sara. She has troubling visions, can understand animals, and can transform herself into an Egyptian cat. All that seems pretty awesome until a strange man shows up in town. He's hunting for the emerald ring, and will not stop until he gets it.

3.  Stephanie O'Brien Stephanie, author of My Fugitive: A Wartime Suspense Novel, gives us this glimpse into her book: "She didn't want to get involved in the war. The soldiers and rebels were none of her concern, except for when their firefights threatened her and the people she cared about. But when an earthquake struck her seaside town, leaving a prisoner trapped among the wreckage, she couldn't leave him to die. Even if saving him meant risking everything."

Come Explore Anaedor!